The Ulster Unionists have produced 11 manifestos — one for each of the 11 new council areas.
In an unusual move, the bulk of the manifesto is common to all 11 but about a third of each document relates solely to that area.
In the documents launched in Enniskillen’s Killyhevlin Hotel yesterday, the party said that it would work to stop the erosion of local communities’ identities as localities are subsumed into larger councils.
The party also said that ratepayers in areas such as Fermanagh or Castlereagh which are joining council areas with much higher rates must be protected from a hike in their rates.
Stormont has put in place a three-year convergence period during which rates increases will be phased in. The UUP unsuccessfully attempted to amend the Local Government Bill to have this support increased.
The party has also proposed a new rating system whereby “more of the money collected in the area stays within it”. At present about half of each rates bill goes to Stormont, with the remainder going to the local council.
The UUP said that councils should use their new planning powers to adopt a ‘town centre first’ approach while also committing its councillors involved in planning decisions to “make all of the relevant information available so that the decisions they take are open and transparent”.
The manifesto also seems to lean in favour of incineration of waste to generate energy, something which has recently caused controversy in Mallusk, where a vast incineration plant is proposed.
The manifesto states that “there have been a number of initiatives to develop energy from waste plants...the technology has been proven across many countries and in many settings” but said that in Northern Ireland there were “overly bureaucratic and lengthy procurement systems”.
UUP MLA Tom Elliott said that he feared the “local” in “local government” was being lost under the new boundaries: and accused the DUP and Sinn Fein of a “carve-up”: “How local is Ballybeen estate with Moira? How local will Belcoo be with Carrickmore? I believe we will have lost that nature of local government.”
But DUP minister Simon Hamilton said that claim was “remarkable in that it represents an admission of defeat by the UUP before a single vote has been cast”.
“The only people who will ‘carve’ anything in the new councils will be those who can win seats by virtue of support from the public; that is how elections work.”